'Old age ain't no place for sissies'. Thanks for that, Bette. For those too young or unaware of Hollywood history, Ruth Elizabeth Davis was a lippy, sassy broad with eyes that could quell a tiger. Or maybe a rude feuding tyrant touched with madness. No matter. The New England actor who sought parts that would make her hateful certainly wouldn't care. Fearlessly, she deployed her inner Jezebel – the role that won her first oscar in 1939 – through a long rollercoaster life.
She coped fiercely with her final years in the late 20th century, dying in 1989 when she was 81. Mine have come 30 years later when age is the last 'ism' condoned, even endorsed, by our society. Thankfully it is now illegal as well as unforgivable to condemn people on grounds of race, gender preference or ability. Unless you're Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, yesterday's sexual norms are actionable today.
We try to embrace a new vocabulary to skirt round 'no go's' that used to be common parlance. Mea culpa: in extremis, spastic slipped out to describe my performance on a golf course. My companions were correctly appalled. In a parallel situation, Franz Klammer, Austria's legendary downhill ski racer, said 'I played like a gorilla'. An insult to a fine animal, but one with no redress. I hope I'll remember that next time I shank.
On the surface, we're all snowflakes now, protected from every shadow and liable to weep if a fly should inadvertently be crushed. And age is for everyone who doesn't face the grimmer alternative. Yet the old are left defenceless against exploitation and indifference.
Job opportunities for over 55s? Who needs proven skill sets when the mantra is brand management frosted with marketing stardust? In the family circle, oldies are less loved than needed for the loving care they can shower on offspring who are spoilt rotten. In the mid 20th century, we were brought up for our parents' convenience. 60 years later, our children's children expect – and receive - that unquestioning compliance with any demand, however unreasonable. Of course priorities shift, but can every grandchild be brilliant, beautiful, a potential Olympian and a musician equal to Mozart. In my slice of middle England, you better believe they can.
These are the realities, but antiquity is still there to be dealt with. The BBC has been savaged for abolishing free television for all but the most straightened fourth agers. Mean spirited for sure, but are they doing us a favour? Less incentive for passive viewing, more time to get out there and seize the world by the throat. Roam it, confront its whims, explore it's possibilities. Bette would, Silver Vixen will – you can believe that too.
Check out future posts for suggestions for ageing independently without getting bored rigid. If you share your insights and concerns, we can get mad together. Insults too if you must. It's all grist to the mill so get in touch.